In July of 2014, I had an awesome opportunity and a problem.
The opportunity: An in-person interview with David Giuntoloi and Bitsie Tulloch about Grimm.
The problem: I didn't watch the show.
However, I had to assume that many of my listeners did watch it. So, I researched what happened in previous seasons, and I developed some questions. I then sent those questions to friends who were big fans of Grimm because I wanted to make sure I crafted good questions.
My friends said they were good questions and didn't have anything to add.
Then, when I sat down to talk with David, he noticed I had a set of prepared questions.
He was shocked.
He playfully expressed his surprise by telling me he didn't expect a podcast interviewer to come prepared with questions.
While I appreciated the compliment, that wasn't the best commentary about podcast interviews. Yet, it wouldn't be the only time I would have to be the exception to that rule.
When I asked Anthony Michael Hall for an interview, he agreed but wanted to keep it short. He soon realized I was prepared, and we ended up having a longer (and enjoyable) conversation.
While attending a convention, I walked into a room full of independent podcasts and media outlets who were there to interview voice actor Fred Tatasciore. I was the last person to interview him. He was so pleased with my preparation and questions that he offered to sign some posters for my listeners. These were posters he brought to the convention.
Do some research
This may sound like common sense, and it should be automatic. However, it's one of the major reasons why so many podcast interviews suck. When I say research, I mean:
1. Ask for a biography page, read their websites and/or read news stories about them
2. If there are prior interviews with your guest, find some and watch or read them
3. If they're an author, read the book
4. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and ask yourself what you would want to know
5. Make sure you don't have too many (if any) questions that start with, "What was it like..."
Many podcasters will improvise or decide on simple questions that don't take a lot of time to develop. Keep in mind, your questions and preparation are a representation of you. While it's important to always remember that, I've interviewed quests whose expertise was way beyond mine. For example, when I had to conduct an interview on the mind's impact on back pain, I had to do a deep-dive into research in order to give me and the interview some meaningful credibility.
Research is critical. Start with these steps, and you'll be well on your way to conducting a stronger interview.
Craft better questions
While I was attending a convention a couple of years ago, I came across someone who I've interviewed in the past. He's an in-demand author, and he told me he was starting to cut back on podcast interview requests.
One reason for this - People keep asking him the same questions.
"Instead of asking me how I got started, I wish they would ask me WHY I got started."
This goes back to my point about the "What was it like" questions:
What was it like doing this
What was it like playing this role
What was it like working with ____
There are better questions, and my former guest correctly pointed out that there are better ways to ask them. It's also another for reason researching prior interviews. If the person you want to interview is an in-demand guest, you can definitely learn about the repeated questions they've been asked.
One of the biggest guests I've ever had was Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter for Marvel. There are a ton of previous interviews to watch, including podcast interviews at San Diego Comic-Con.
So, you don't have to be the interviewer who asked that question because:
1. You did your research and noticed she's been asked this 100 times.
2. Your research will show you that she doesn't like to view the character in that context.
Now, it's almost impossible to line-up a set of questions that a guest like Hayley has never been asked, but you can craft a different way to ask it. When you do that, your guest will probably have to stop, think and share a new version of their response. The same questions will trigger the same responses, and that gets old with guests.
Don't make it a tennis match
During a tennis match, you can't help but take your eyes off the game and watch the crowd. The sight of people's heads going side to side can be entertaining as well. However, in the world of interviewing - it can be quite dull.
What do I mean by a tennis match interview? The back and forth is simple and one-dimensional:
I think it's much more effective to approach an interview as a conversation. You don't even have to follow your prepared questions at times because they might answer a prepared question while discussing another topic.
You have to listen and adjust.
Plus, if you're listening carefully, they may say something that inspires a better question than the one you have in front of you.
You can also make a guest comfortable with a conversational interview by having some pleasant small talk before you start recording.
Don't be afraid to bring up that other thing
This is another advantage of doing research. You might be talking to an author about their book, but your research showed that they're very passionate about a charity. So, you ask them about that as well.
Some interviewers are so one-track minded, they talk about one topic, and they're done. If there's an opportunity to work an additional highlight into your discussion:
1. It shows you did your research
2. It's a potential opportunity to ask something they're not always asked
3. It could add another interesting layer to your discussion.
I've done this on more than one occasion, and it's always a good thing. Back in 2012, I interviewed Alicia Witt about her role in Cowgirls 'n Angels and Two Weeks Notice. She lit up with a smile when I brought up her singing career, which is a bigger part of her life now.
Remember that when you conduct an interview, you're representing you, your show and your audience. Take that seriously. Let that help you gain a reputation as a prepared and professional interviewer.
That reputation could override the negative perceptions of podcast interviews and generate more opportunities for you.
I love it when I come across the occasional meme or message on social media that states something truly meaningful. For example, I like it when I see reminders that in a very celebrity-obsessed and self-focused world, important people get overlooked - like our military heroes. This is especially true for those who belong to The Greatest Generation.
No doubt about it, I was always excited when I booked a celebrity guest on my first talk show. However, I was honored to talk to two heroes in February of 2012. The movie Red Tails was coming out, and it told a story featuring a group of Tuskegee Airmen. Sure, I could've worked on finding a couple of actors from the movie, but I decided to go a different route.
I went out and found two actual Tuskegee Airmen to feature on the show - Master Sergeant Joseph Montgomery and Colonel Charles McGee. First off, Colonel McGee was a modern day badass. From World War II to Vietnam, he was like Maverick from Top Gun. He flew over 400 combat missions during his service. He is 99-years-old today.
I had the unique opportunity to interview Master Sergeant Montgomery at his home in Fort Worth, Texas. Like many heroes of his generation, he was a great storyteller. He talked about making the trip to Tuskegee via train and having to cover up the windows at stops where skin color could cause some problems for them. At times, he chokes up talking about the experience, proving how much pain still existed. I was sad to learn that he passed away last year, but I feel lucky to be someone who got to hear his story.
I'm also proud to be someone who can help keep the stories and memories alive for both of these American heroes.